Take a Step Up: Impart Health Education in Calamity-Stricken Communities
Posted on May 13, 2012 at 8:13 am
This is a guest post written by Krisca Te. Krisca works with Open Colleges, Australia’s leading provider of TAFE courses equivalent and distance education. When not working, you can find her actively participating in local dog show events – in support of her husband.
When a crisis hits in some far corner of the world, whether a drought in the North of Kenya or flooding in Sri Lanka, and the images of malnourished or orphaned children reach our television screens, we are naturally anxious to help out in some way.
But unfortunately, as the saying goes “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and while we may feel that organizing for a shipment of clothes or flying out to distribute free food is the solution, the reality is somewhat different. Our well-meaning gestures often do more harm than good, and unless we take the time to think about the consequences of our actions and carefully weigh our options, we may actually be contributing to the problem.
It can be frustrating, however, to hear that our actions are not having the intended effects, and many people feel that while certain methods tend to be continuously booed by the peanut gallery; useful alternatives are not often provided. So today, rather than talking about what not to do, I thought this post could focus on something that is helpful in times of calamity.
The importance of health education
After a natural disaster or during calamities such as drought, famine or flooding, one of the biggest dangers people face is the breakout of a serious epidemic such as cholera or hepatitis. Even a less serious illness like diarrhea or hook worm could lead to death, especially in young children, if left untreated.
Epidemics during calamities are often wrongly thought to be due to things such as dead bodies, although more likely causes are problems that occur when a population is displaced, such as a lack of clean drinking water and proper sanitation, overcrowded living spaces and insufficient health services.
Because developing countries lack proper infrastructure, resources and basic disaster-preparedness plans, they are affected far worse when calamities strike. This makes it terribly important for those in affected areas to have access to basic health education and knowledge, something which is often sorely lacking in many rural settings.
Over one billion of the world’s poorest people lack even the most basic education that is necessary to understand what causes communicable diseases and the precautions that can be taken in order to prevent them. Education is the tool they desperately need in order to deal with calamities and continue to improve their lives long after disaster relief teams have gone home.
How can you help?
Projects like shipping shoes, clothes, canned goods or even medical supplies to affected areas, not only have short reaching effects, they may undermine local trade or even be useless to those they are meant to help.
Rather than putting your energy and resources into these short term projects, find organizations that work to provide those in rural settings with health education. There are a number of organizations that work along these lines that you could choose to support, like UNESECO, WHO and Doctors Without Borders to name a few.
If you feel the need to fly yourself over and offer your services as a volunteer, there are a few questions you should ask yourself. Most importantly, will you be a burden or a help? Do you have any experience in the health services industry or have any knowledge about or experience working with the people in the country you want to travel to?
If your answer to all of the above is “no” then your presence in a calamity-stricken community may be more of a burden than a help, as it could put a strain on already scarce food supplies or take up extra space in an overcrowded area, without giving much in return. Perhaps instead, you could help put together or support a team of experienced health care workers and educators from your area who will be able to contribute in a positive way.
Wanting to help those less fortunate is a noble ambition, but in order to make your efforts worthwhile you need to consider both the short and long term effects that your actions will have.